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February 4, 2008 at 9:49 am #7443lancejferraroMember
Insanity, is that my problem? To talk to me you wouldn’t think so; but if insanity is defined as doing the same thing over and over and over again, hoping for a different result, you might agree with my choice of that word.
I served 22 years in the Navy, much of it as a teacher, trainer and instructor. After retiring I decided to teach middle and high school social studies. Getting a Masters seemed like a good idea, since most districts were trending towards making that a requirement for their teachers. Researching, I found a one-year Master of Arts in Teaching program at Southern Oregon University. The program didn’t start for two semesters, so I took more history classes. My final result was – a BS in History, a BS in Liberal Studies, and, woo, hoo, my Masters in Teaching. I obtained licenses in Oregon, California and Washington because, being single, I would be able to take a position anywhere. I was ready.
I also had a $37,000 millstone around my neck known as student loans. Why so much? Because my disabilities (more on that later) developed while serving in the Navy prevented me from doing typical student jobs. Also, working during a Master’s in-one-year program might have caused my grades to suffer, so I borrowed.
My brand new degrees, my licenses and I went looking for a job. That first year I sent out more than 300 resumes, as well as over 50 paper and online applications. To get known in local districts, and to stay in the classroom I substitute taught in southern Oregon. I found, as I suspected, that I loved being with the kids, and being in the classroom.
My first interview happened at the Oregon Educators Job Fair, near the end of my Masters. After circulating for an hour or so I was invited to a screening interview. Passing that, I was being escorted to the hiring interview. After many people telling me how hard it was to get a teaching job, I had a shot at one on the first interview. Then, the screening interviewer stopped and said, “Oh, I forgot to ask you, do you speak Spanish? ” I answered “no,” and that was it. He said he couldn’t use me, even though I was more than highly qualified in his eyes. I was crushed. I went back onto the floor and had several other screening interviews that day, each one with the question, “Do you speak Spanish?” It became obvious to me that a de facto hiring requirement had become speaking Spanish, which seemed to trump my education, my 22 years life experiences living and traveling overseas, and my years of instructing and leadership experience in the Navy.
After the fair I was invited to an interview at a rural school in the Central Coastal region of Oregon. Later, from a friend in the district, I learned that they had already decided to hire a former teacher before they even interviewed me. They were just going through the motions.
In search of more opportunity, I decided to relocate within Oregon, to the Portland area, where there were more districts, more schools and more students. I applied for full-time and substitute positions in six local districts. As a sub I had great success, quickly establishing a professional reputation, and was regularly requested by many teachers. Over the four years I subbed in those six districts I saw several new hire social studies teachers but, frustratingly, I was not called once.
At this time my debts from teaching, from my one credit card, and exhaustion of my savings brought me to the point where I had to choose between homelessness, or bankruptcy. I wasn’t going to live under a bridge for Visa, so I filed for bankruptcy in 2003.
By this time it was 2005, and I’d been away from my family for 32 years – 22 years in the Navy, and ten years in Oregon. In that year my 85 year old Father had a heart attack, my 83 year old Mother lost her second breast to cancer, and my sister developed breast cancer for the first time, and another sister developed serious knee problems. My daughter, living in Florida, lost two houses in two years to two hurricanes and, in the summer of 2006 called Florida quits, moving back to Michigan with my grandkids. My other daughter and grandkids lived in Columbia, SC. It was time to return to Michigan, so in the summer of 2006 I did. Emotionally, moving back was a great move. Financially, it was lousy, cutting my pay as a sub by more than half.
Ironically, after returning to Michigan I got a call from an Oregon charter school with an offer to teach social studies full time. I was to teach 8th, 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th grades and one elective. The job would give me the much valued one-year of full-time teaching experience, and meet the Oregon license renewal requirements. I took the position. I thoroughly enjoyed the year, and had a great time with my students.
In February of 2007 I began asking the charter school principal for a letter of recommendation, and to fill out a form required for my Michigan teaching license. As I write this, in February of 2008 and after 8 more requests, he still has not given me a LOR, nor signed my form. Because of him I was not able to get a Michigan license, so it was impossible to compete for any of the jobs listed in my area. Yet, this administrator wants me to come back and teach at his school. That won’t happen. He has destroyed any trust I had in him, and there is no way I’ll place my professional future in his hands!
I love teaching, and it has been my dream to teach the bright, eager and smart young people that are the future of our nation. But, at this point I need to re-evaluate. I have to ask myself the question: Have I spent my time, efforts and treasure on a futile quest? At his point, the answer seems to be yes. At 56, I have spent nearly eight years seeking full time employment. A short while ago I added up all the time I have spent over the last eight years filling out applications, personally visiting school districts, distributing resumes and such and found that I’ve spent the equivalent of a full year of 8 hours days searching for work. (As an aside, had I done what I did for the Navy I could have spent those eight years working for a high five figure income. Choosing teaching was a costly choice I accepted.)
But, I absolutely love being in the classroom. In some ways I don’t care that my pay as a sub is so small because I look forward to each day in the classroom. So, my decision is to give finding a job one last try. I am mounting an all-out effort to get a job for the 2008-2009 school year. If, at the beginning of the school year I still do not have a full-time position, that’s it, the search is over – I will seek a job outside of education.
Being a thoughtful and analytical man, I want to know why I haven’t been able to get a teaching job. What forces could be operating here? Is there something ‘fatal’ in my resume? At a job fair I had some HR people from several far away districts I wasn’t applying to look at my resume, and they said it looked good to them, and that they saw nothing ‘fatal’ in it. It was nice to know I’d written a good resume.
My resume was good, so what else could be hindering me. Well, one obvious reason, and a big one it is, is that there is little demand for social studies teachers. I learned this because several times over the last eight years I checked districts all over the country for social studies positions. I found very few jobs listed each time I checked.
So, few available social studies jobs is understandable, a reality of the market. The other reasons I suspect are more murky, difficult if not impossible to prove. One of those murky reasons I think is age discrimination. I was made aware of this possibility when a friend of mine, a two-time, teacher of the year in his state, told me of his experiences. He said he’d been interviewed a dozen times, but not been hired. However, as he walked into the interview, he noticed the interviewers eyes looking over his head. Wondering what they were looking at, he realized they were looking at his prematurely gray hair. He dyed his hair, and was hired on the second interview afterwards. In looking around the many HR departments I’ve visited over the years I find that most workers that are decision makers are in their 30s and 40s. I’m dying my hair at the start of the hiring season this year.
Another factor I feel operating against me is disability discrimination. All applications come with a disability disclosure form, completion of which is not required. I have to ask myself that if I don’t complete it will my application be considered? But, completing one may also keep my application from being considered. Why do I think this? As health care costs rise, school districts are reluctant to hire someone who, on paper, looks as if they may cost their health insurance company a lot of money. If the forms sole purpose is to collect statistics, why is my name and/or social security number required on the form? It should be a blind form, with no way of connecting it to the applicant. If you believe that the form isn’t used in hiring decisions, I’ve got a bridge…in Brooklyn… or land in Florida. At an education job fair I asked a HR administrator from the South if he used the forms in making decisions, and he straight up said he did. My disabilities are transparent, and by that I mean to look at me you would have no idea I am disabled. My disabilities are knees, and being sighted in one eye. Neither of these disabilities affects my work performance in any way. My disability care, what little there is, is the responsibility of the Veterans Administration, and would not be borne by my employer provided health insurance.
I think being male is also a problem. Sure, there are fewer males going to education schools, but in a field that is predominantly female is there an unconscious gender bias favoring females? This will be a controversial observation, and difficult to study, but I ask you to consider it’s possibility.
In a world where we hear of a terrible shortage of male teachers, as role models for both girls and boys, each male teacher seems to be working against the ‘original sin’ of child abuse. As a male teacher, I feel as if I, and my fellow male teachers, are considered half guilty until proven half innocent, and always under suspicion – simply because of our gender. I deeply resent the suspicion cast upon me, and my fellow male teachers, just because of our gender.
How did this happen? It partly came about from years of media frenzy to cover crimes against children. Think about it, years of continuous national and local news exposure (Think the Catholic Church sex abuse scandal) about men abusing young boys and girls; it would be hard to not be suspicious of men. But, there are millions of us out here who are innocent, who have had nothing but the best in our hearts for the children under our care, but are still tarred by the actions of the few. I have read (Even in Men Teach) of parents that want their child removed from a male teachers room, just because he is male, or because they think he is gay.
I also prefer being single, which is a curse because it provokes unvoiced suspicion. He is an older man, how come he’s not married? Is he Gay?
I am aware that some who read this will feel that I’m a whiner, that my analysis is bogus, that I haven’t tried hard enough. That’s OK, they can think what they will. These are my opinions and observations.
I have had a wonderful time in the classroom with my students, as a sub or a full time teacher. The kids are great, have so much potential, are so eager to learn and have so much energy and curiosity. I love teaching them, and hope that I finally get a job this next school year. We’ll see.
Has anyone else found it this hard to follow their dream of teaching?
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